Written in 1982:
Poetry, 1st of all, was the and still must be, a musical form. It is speech musicked. It, to be most powerful, much reaches to where speech begins, as sound, and bring the sound into full focus and highly rhythmic communication. High Speech.
The poetry for the dying epoch (racism and monopoly capitalism, imperialism) exists mostly on paper. It is print bred and bound, and actually intended for a particular elite. It, like the structure of the economy itself, is not meant to reach or benefit large numbers of people. English poetry died when the Empire died, it was spent by the beginning of the 20th century. Some Americans went over the rev it up (Pound, Eliot, and Co.) but the baton had passed to the Americans because at the time they did not have to cover up as much madness and lies as the Empire. And the various cultures inside the American experience African, Latino, Native American, Asia, European immigrant, pumped it daily full of reality and its complex living rhythms. Combined with the Anglo American worker and farmer rhythms American poetry, writing, the culture as a whole became truly formidable as a force in the world. (Through obviously spread by the search of the American rulers for the profits all over the world. Like when you turn on the Voice of American or Armed Forces Radio overseas somewhere you do not hear Brahms, but Stevie w or bobby d or various clones there from).
Black poetry, in the main form, from its premise (unless the marker be considerably whited out) means to show its musical origins and resolve as a given. Just as Blues is, on one level, a verse form, so Black poetry begins as music running into words.
Black poet laureates like Langston Hughes are compelling examples of black music running into high speech. He said he wanted “to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz.” And in more recent generations poets like Larry Neal, Yusuf Rhman, the Last Poets, Askia Toure, Jayne Cortez, write a poetry that brings the words into music and reflecting the most contemporary of both expressions, made one.
“Poetry and jazz” I first saw being done in the Village when I got out of the error farce in 1957 or so. But Langston Hughes was the first poet of any reputation I saw using this form, at the 5 Spot in the late 50’s. But he had being doing it, by that time, for years.
It never occurred to me that there would be any reason not to read poetry with music. And the clearer I got my own legitimate historical and cultural sources, the more obvious it became that not only was the poetry supposed to be as musical as it could be, but that reading with music would only enhance and extend its meaning and give new strength to its form.
The poetry I wasn’t to write is oral by tradition, mass aimed as its fundamental function motive. Black poetry, in its mainstream is oracular, sermonic, it incorporates the screams and shouts and moans and wails of the people inside and outside of the churches. The whispers and thunder vibrato and staccato of the inside and outside of the people themselves and it wants to as real as anything else and as accessible as a song – a song about a real world, full of good and evil.
The music is also Afro-American, as the players and the poet. But the music has borrowed from whatever in the world interested it, but it is still itself. David Murray and Steve McCall are fine artists of Afro-American contemporary music. It is a music whose African origins are sanded by its American experience, like the people. It has come from Word song and Spiritual, and blues is its common personal speech. Murray and McCall are part of a current generation who have taken these basic historical and cultural bases and given the startling innovations of folks like Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Ellington, Mr. Young, Mr. Parker, and Mr. Coltrane, have continued to tell us the second min, hour, day month, year, and epoch of our reality.
Together they [Murray & McCall] are the tremendous wings for the poetry/music flight heard here. We wanted the music and words to extend each other, be parts of the same expression, different pieces of a whole and the work to produce this produced seemed effortless, and it was a pleasure, a beautiful experience. Sometimes working with the other, less skilled musicians trying to put poetry with music is hard draggy work. The musicians might not want to deal with poetry, might not be able to understand that for the music to be right it must begin with the spirit of the poem and put into how sound. But that’s something else. On this record we tried to express some of the joy we had in making the poetry/music. We also wanted to say some things.